08 December 2020

Sale of Utah Royals brings unhappy saga to an end, but leaves players heartbroken

Utah Royals have been bought by Kansas City bringing to an end an unsavoury period at the club surrounding controversial owner Dell Loy Hansen.

The National Women’s Soccer League announced that the Royals are moving to Kansas after the franchise was sold to a majority-female ownership group as part of Hansen’s sell-off of all of his Utah soccer holdings. 

All Royals players, contracts, and draft picks are being transferred to Kansas City.

On the pitch, it means the squad will be able to play in the 2021 season but under a different club and in a different city. 

Off it, ownership transfers to a group headed by Angie and Chris Long, who are both investment bankers, and includes Brittany Matthews, the former pro soccer player and fitness entrepreneur who is engaged to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Matthews said: “As a former collegiate and professional soccer player, I have a true level of appreciation for what these incredible women do on a daily basis. I am honored to be part of an amazing ownership group that is passionate about the game and eager to welcome a NWSL team back to Kansas City."

She added: “We have the greatest fans and community here in KC and I can’t wait to huddle around this team – we want more championship parades in the very near future!”

Hansen, meanwhile, walks away after a period of disquiet which came to a head in August when he went on talk radio and criticised his players’ decision not to play against LAFC as a protest against racism and police brutality.

He threatened to decrease his investment in Real Salt Lake over the issue and was met with fierce criticism from both athletes and fans.

Other issues then came to light — including allegations of sexism — in interviews with current and former employees of the Real Salt Lake organisation, suggesting a toxic culture among certain elements of the leadership.

Hansen made a fulsome public apology following the players’ anti-racism stand.

He said: "I recognise that at times I have spoken too quickly, without pausing to consider the feelings or good intentions of others. This is not acceptable and I assume full responsibility for allowing my words to travel unfiltered as to their significance and impact.

“I believe that communities are strengthened by diversity. I am truly sorry for offending and being insensitive to the plight of others. I seek to do better and commit to supporting and improving diversity and inclusion in my own community going forward.”

In the apology, he also confirmed he would sell his ownership of the MLS team.

He then took a leave of absence and the MLS and NWSL launched an investigation into his actions.

But players at the club have reacted emotionally to the news with captain Amy Rodriguez, who signed for Royals in 2018, saying she was heartbroken.

In a message to fans, she said: "Right now it seems as if there are no words and there is nothing I could say that will ease the hurt you are feeling. I know because I have felt it too. But I would be remiss if I did not take the time to share how much you have all meant to me, my family and this team.

“Since day one you have embraced us with open arms and made us feel a part of this community. Despite our shortcomings, you have stood proudly by our side and in triumph and failure you have always cheered. 

"Please know that we see you, we know how lucky we are to play for you and we will miss you more than you could ever know.”

While player Tziarra King said: “Thank you to all the Royals fans for supporting me in my first year as a pro! It’s been a wild year, but your support has meant the most.”

And star Kate Del Fava wrote: "Utah fans, thank you so much for your unending support. My first year was incredibly special because of you all. You will be missed."

The sale isn’t the end for the Royals though as the deal has a clause which states the club will be able to re-establish the Royals name and franchise in the 2023 season.

After the sale news emerged, Hansen and his wife Julie released a statement.

They said: "We love the Utah soccer community and have been honoured to work with these world-renowned professional women athletes.

“We will truly miss our athletes who have become our friends. We lend our full support to new owners who can continue our vision to have the women’s team equal to the men’s team in time, facilities, and resources and who can help shepherd the team into a new era of growth and success.”

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